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American Revolutionary War
In the South

Compiled by:
Paul R. Sarrett, Jr., 1991




American General Daniel MORGAN


Battle of King's Mountain, SC. 07 Oct. 1780

Battle of Cowpens, SC. 17 Jan. 1781

Compiled by:

Paul R. Sarrett, Jr., 1991

CONGRESS, on the sixteenth of June 1780, directed "Daniel MORGAN of the Virginia line," with his old rank of Colonel, to be "employed in the southern army as Major-General GATES should direct." MORGAN had been justly aggrieved at the slight recognition by GATES of his services in the capture of Burgoyne. But, when be heard of the defeat at Camden and the dispersal of the American army, he hastened to the scene of disaster, and before the end of September arrived at Hillsborough. There GATES was doing all that he could to draw together the remains of the regular army. The militia of North Carolina joined him in considerable force. Marion was in the neighborhood of the Santee, and Sumter on the west of that river; Davie of North Carolina, with dragoons and mounted riflemen, had repaired to the Waxhaw settlement; Colonel Clark, at the head of exiles from Georgia and South Carolina, was near Augusta; the mountaineers of the West, under Campbell, Cleaveland, Williams, Sevier, Shelby, MacDowell, and others, were gathering for a descent upon the British posts in South Carolina and Georgia; Lord Charles CORNWALLIS was planning junction of his forces at Charlotte, with the intention of proceeding into Virginia.

The governor of North Carolina, holding "Colonel MORGAN's character as a soldier to be well known in America" and his presence sure to give spirit to his countrymen, requested him to take command of a regiment of the militia of North Carolina. This MORGAN declined, for GATES received him with cordiality and destined him for special service. Men enough to fill four companies were chosen out of two battalions and formed into a REGULARS:

Light Infantry Battalion, with Lieutenant-Colonel John E. HOWARD, of 1st Maryland Continental Line for its chief, with the company of riflemen under Captain ROSE, some 290 men Regiment of cavalry were united under Lieutenant-Colonel William WASHINGTON; (Washington's Light Dragoons) with 80 men. and the whole were constituted a separate corps in the command of MORGAN. Nor was MORGAN without powerful friends. JEFFERSON, the governor of Virginia, who was keen-sighted in discerning all the resources of that extensive commonwealth, and RUTLEDGE, the great chief magistrate of South Carolina, with the approval of GATES, wrote letters to congress that the public service in the southern department would be greatly advanced by his promotion to the rank of brigadier-general. By their joint influence, on the 13th of October, 1780 six days after the battle of King's Mountain, he was promoted to that rank in the army of the United States. Colonel Otho WILLIAMS, then the adjutant-general of the southern army, congratulated him "on the justice" congress had done him.

On the day following the promotion of MORGAN, WASHINGTON, acting under a power delegated to him by congress, announced his selection of Major-General Nathanael GREENE to relieve GATES of the chief command in the southern department. On the thirtieth of October, 1780 congress, confirming the nomination of Nathanael GREENE, assigned to him all the regular troops raised or to be raised in Delaware and the states south of it; and conferred on him all the powers that had been vested in GATES, but "subject to the control of the commander-in-chief." Thus the conduct of the war obtained, for the first time, the unity essential to success.

General George WASHINGTON was in danger of being shortly without men; yet he detached for the service in the Carolinas Lieutenant-Colonel Henry LEE, his best cavalry officer, with the corps called the legion, consisting of three troops of horse and three companies of infantry: in all, 350 men. HAMILTON, weary of the silent tasks of a secretary, and impatient to gain a name in the world by the command of troops in the light of day, having for his object "to act a conspicuous part in some enterprise that might raise his character as a soldier above mediocrity," spoke to WASHINGTON about going to the southward with Nathanael GREENE; but he could not at the time be spared by the commander-in-chief, and reluctantly yielded. For Nathanael GREENE, WASHINGTON prepared a welcome at the South, writing to George MASON: "I introduce this gentleman as a man of abilities, bravery, and coolness. He has a comprehensive knowledge of our affairs, and is a man of fortitude and resources. I have not the smallest doubt, therefore, of his employing all the means which may be put into his hands to the best advantage, nor of his assisting in pointing out the most likely ones to answer the purposes of his command." "General WASHINGTON's influence," so Nathanael GREENE wrote to Hamilton," will do more than all the assemblies upon the continent. I always thought him exceedingly popular, but in many places he is little less than adored and universally admired. From being the friend of the general, I found myself exceedingly well received."

At Charlotte, NC. where Nathanael GREENE arrived on the 2nd of December, 1780 he received a complaint from Lord Charles CORNWALLIS respecting the execution of prisoners after the fight at King's Mountain, coupled with a threat of retaliation. Avowing his own respect for the principles of humanity and the law of nations, Nathanael GREENE answered by sending him a list of about fifty men who had been hanged by Lord Charles CORNWALLIS himself and others high in the British service; and he called on mankind to sit in judgment on the order of Lord Charles CORNWALLIS to Balfour after the action near Camden, on Lord Rawdon's proclamation, and on the ravages of Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON. No American officer in his department, in any one instance, imitated the cruelties systematically practised by the British. Sumter spared all prisoners, though the worst men were among them. Marion was famed for his mercy. Cruelty was never imputed to Williams, PICKENS, or any other of the American chiefs. But the British officers continued to ridicule the idea of observing capitulations with Americans, insisting that those who claimed to be members of an independent state could derive no benefit from any solemn engagement, and were but vanquished traitors who owed their lives to British clemency.

In the course of the winter Colonel William CUNNINGHAM, of the British under orders from Colonel BALFOUR at Charleston, led one hundred and fifty white men and negroes into the interior settlements. On his route he killed about fifty of those whom he suspected of being friends to the United States, and burned their habitations. At length he came to a house which sheltered an American party of thirty-five men under Colonel HAYES of the South Carolina Volunteers. Thus refusing to surrender at discretion, a fire from both sides was kept up for about three hours, when the British succeeded in setting the house in flames. In this extremity the besieged capitulated under the agreement that they should be treated as prisoners of war until they could be exchanged. The capitulation was formally signed and interchanged; and yet the Americans had no sooner marched out than the British hanged Colonel HAYES to the limb of a tree. The second in command was treated in like manner, after which Col. CUNNINGHAM, with his own hands, slew some of the prisoners, and desired his men to follow his example. One of them traversed the ground where his old neighbors and acquaintances lay dead and dying, and ran his sword through those in whom he saw signs of life. These facts were afterward established by a judicial investigation.

GATES, before his departure, had brought together two thousand three hundred and seven men, of whom a little more than one half were militia. "Eight hundred were properly clothed and equipped." Nathanael GREENE was by nature firm and adventurous and rapid in decision; now, when after four years' service he assumed the chief command in the southern department, he avoided every risk and carried caution almost to irresolution.

The country round Charlotte had been ravaged. Sending KOSCIUSZKO in advance to select a site for an encampment, Nathanael GREENE marched his army to the head of boat navigation on the Pedee. There, in a fertile and unexhausted country, at the falls of the river, he established what he named "a camp of repose" to improve the discipline and spirits of his men, and "to gain for himself an opportunity of looking about," leaving MORGAN and the corps which GATES had confided to his separate command as the sole object of attraction to the army of Lord Charles CORNWALLIS.

MORGAN, with his small detached force, crossed the Catawba just below the mouth of the Little Catawba, and, passing Broad river, on the 25th of December 1780 encamped on the north bank of the Pacolet. Here he was joined by mounted South Carolinian Vol. under Colonel Andrew PICKENS, and Georgians under Major McCALL. General DAVIDSON of North Carolina on the 29th brought 120 men into his camp, under the command of Major James McDowell, DAVIDSON, left immediately to collect more men. MORGAN was at that time the ablest commander of light troops in the world; in no European army of that day were there troops like those which he trained. Instructed in vigilance by life in the backwoods, he had organized a system for obtaining speedy and exact information as to the designs and movements of his disproportionately powerful enemy. Nathanael GREENE offered him wagons. "Wagons," he answered on the last day of the year 1780, "would be an impediment whether we attempt to annoy the enemy or provide for our own safety. It is incompatible with the nature of light troops to be encumbered with luggage."

Hearing that a large party of Georgia tories was plundering the neighborhood of Fair Forest, MORGAN sent Lieutenant-Colonel William WASHINGTON with his own regiment and mounted riflemen under McCALL's, Mounted Militis to attack them. Coming up with them at about twelve o'clock on the 13th Jan. 1781, Lt. Col. William WASHINGTON extended his mounted riflemen on their wings, and charged them in front with his own cavalry. The tories fled after great loss in battle, leaving forty as prisoners.

Lord Charles CORNWALLIS -- who, when joined by the reinforcement of two thousand men sent to him from New York by way of Charleston, under Leslie, could advance with thirty-five hundred fighting men -- was impatient of the successes of MORGAN, and resolved to intercept his retreat. On the 2nd of January 1781 he ordered Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON, the officer on whom he most relied, to cross Broad river, writing: "Dear TARLETON -- If MORGAN is still anywhere within your reach, I shall wish you to push him to the utmost. No time is to be lost." TARLETON answered by promising either to destroy MORGAN's corps or push it before him over Broad river toward King's Mountain; and he wished the main army to advance, so as to be ready to capture the fugitives. "I feel bold in offering my opinion," he wrote, "as it flows from well-founded inquiry concerning the enemy's designs." To this Lord Charles CORNWALLIS replied: "You have understood my intentions perfectly."

MORGAN had reported to Nathanael GREENE: "Forage and provisions are not to be had; here we cannot subsist." In consequence of the exhausted condition of the country in which he was stationed, his whole force could never be kept together. Parties from necessity were always straggling in search of food. He had requested Nathanael GREENE to recall his detachment to the main army, or to suffer him to pass into Georgia; neither of these requests being approved of, he next asked that a diversion might be made in his favor. This request, too, Nathanael GREENE saw reasons for declining. The danger to MORGAN was imminent, for the light troops of the British were pursuing him on the one side, and their main army preparing to intercept his retreat on the other. On the 14th of Jan. 1781 Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON passed the Enoree and Tyger rivers above the Cherokee Ford. On the afternoon of the fifteenth MORGAN encamped at Burr's Mills on Thickety Creek; and wrote to Nathanael GREENE his wish to avoid an action. "But this," he added, "will not be always in my power." His scouts informed him that Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON had crossed the Tyger at Musgrove's Mills with a force of 1,100 or 1,200 men. On the sixteenth he put himself and his party in full motion toward Broad river, while in the evening his camp of the morning was occupied by Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON's party. The same day Lord Charles CORNWALLIS with his army reached Turkey Creek.

Battle of Cowpens, 17 Jan. 1781

In South Carolina, where the grass is springing through every month of winter, cattle in those days grazed all the year round; never housed, nor fed by the hand of man, but driven from time to time into "cowpens", where the owners gave salt to the herd and each one marked those which were his own. Two miles from such an enclosure, on a wide plain covered with primeval pines and chestnut and oak, about 16 miles north from Spartanburg, NC 10 miles west from the Cherokee Ford on the Broad river, and a little less than 5 miles from the line of North Carolina, MORGAN encamped his party for the night. His former position subjected him at once to the operations of Lord Charles CORNWALLIS and Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON, and, in case of a defeat, his retreat might have easily been cut off; at the Cowpens he was in a position to improve any advantage he might gain, and to provide better for his own security should he be unfortunate. With a noble confidence in himself, in his officers, and in his men, MORGAN resolved to give battle to his pursuers. In the evening he moved among his fellow-soldiers, sustaining their cheerfulness. During the night Col. Andrew PICKENS returned from a short absence with more than a hundred militia, and another party of fifty came in. The moment was come when it was safest to fight.

On the 17th Jan. 1781, at an hour before daylight, MORGAN, through his excellent system of spies, knew that Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON's troops were approaching his camp. His own men, numbering 80 cavalry and 237 "Regulars" infantry of the troops of the United States, and 553 militia from the states of VA, NC, SC, GA., quietly breakfasted and prepared for battle.

AMERICANS                                    BRITISH/TORY
Brig. Gen. Daniel MORGAN                 Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton
1st Maryland Regulars       - 290     7th Foot (Royal Fusiliers)      - 200
Washington's Light Dragoons -  80     7th Foot-Fraisier's Highlanders - 200
McCall's Mounted Cavalry     - 45     Major McCarther (Commander)
                                      3 Co. of light infantry         - ---
                                      Tarleton's British Legion       - 550
MILITIA CONTINGENT                    17th Light Dragoons             -  50
Colonel Andrew PICKENS (Commander)    Royal Artillery Section
South Carolina Volunteers - 270       2-3 pounder galloper guns
     Regiments of:
     Col. Pickens
     Col. Brannon
     Col. Thomas
     Col. Hays
     Col. Hammond

North Carolina Volunteers - 120 Men
Major James McDowell (Commander)

Georgia Volunteers        -  60 Men
Major Cunningham

Virginia Militia Volunteers - 100 Men
     Regiments of:
     Col. Beatie
     Col. Triplet

Agusta (VA) Riflemen    - 100 Men
     Regiments of:
     Col. Tate
     Col. Buchanan

Estimated Total: 1,065 Men                 Estimated Total: 1,100
Losses: 12 killed, 60 wounded              Losses: 110 killed, 702 wounded

The ground chosen was an open wood between the springs of two little rivulets, with a slight ridge extending from one of them to the other. The wood was free from Undergrowth; no thicket offered covert, no swamp a refuge from cavalry. The best troops were placed in line on the rising ground. The Maryland light infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John E. HOWARD, formed the centre; two companies of approved Virginia riflemen were on each wing. Lieutenant-Colonel William WASHINGTON and his cavalry were placed as a reserve out of sight and out of fire. The volunteers from the Carolinas and Georgia were posted under Col. Andrew PICKENS in advance, so as to defend the approaches. About sixty sharpshooters of the North Carolina volunteers were to act as skirmishers on the right flank one hundred and fifty yards in front of the line, and as many more of the Georgians at the same distance on the left.

Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON's troops, numbering a little more than eleven hundred, having two field-pieces and a great advantage in bayonets and cavalry, after a march of twelve miles, came in sight at eight o'clock, and drew up in a single line of battle. The legion infantry formed their centre with the seventh regiment on the right, the seventy-first on the left, and two light companies of a hundred men each on the flanks. The artillery moved in front. Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON, with two hundred and eighty cavalry, was in the rear. No sooner were they formed than their whole line rushed forward with the greatest impetuosity and with shouts. They were received by a heavy and well-directed fire-first from the American skirmishers, and then from the whole of Co. Andrew PICKENS's command; but their superiority of numbers enabled them to gain the flanks of the Americans, who were thus obliged to change their position. They drew back in good order about fifty paces, formed, advanced on the enemy and gave them a volley which threw them into disorder. The Virginia riflemen, who had kept their places, instinctively formed themselves on the sides of the British, so that they who two or three minutes before had threatened to turn the Americans found themselves as it were within a pair of open pincers, exposed to the converging oblique fire of two companies of sharpshooters on each flank and a direct fire in front. Lieutenant-Colonel John E. HOWARD perceived the wavering of the British and gave orders for the line to charge with bayonets, which was done with such address that the enemy fled with the utmost precipitation, leaving their field-pieces behind them. The Americans followed up their advantages so effectually that the British had no opportunity of rallying. Lieutenant-Colonel William WASHINGTON, having been informed that Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON was cutting down the riflemen on the left, pushed forward and charged his party with such firmness that they broke their ranks and fled, while Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON made no attempt to recover the day. They were completely routed and were pursued twenty-four miles by the cavalry.

Of the Americans, only twelve were killed and sixty wounded. Of the enemy, ten commissioned officers were killed, and more than a hundred rank and file; two hundred were wounded; twenty-nine commissioned officers and more than five hundred privates were taken prisoners, beside seventy negroes. Two standards, upward of a hundred dragoon horses, thirty-five wagons, eight hundred muskets, and two field-pieces that had been taken from the British at Saratoga and retaken at Camden, fell into the hands of the victors. The immense baggage of Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON's party, which had been left in the rear, was destroyed by the British themselves. "Our success," wrote the victor in his modest report, "must be attributed to the justice of our cause and the gallantry of our troops. My wishes would induce me to name every sentinel in the corps."

The victory came because the officers were excellent; the men, of whom every one was at heart a volunteer, were bent on doing their whole duty, and sure that their general knew how to command them. Every officer and soldier felt himself one with his general in will, council, and action. Congress, attempting to sum up the merit of MORGAN in three words, instinctively wrote: "Virus unita valet, United virtue prevails." The army was fashioned by its general into one life, one devotedness, one energy. "It is impossible," so, on the day after the battle, wrote Lord Charles CORNWALLIS, the nearest and most deeply interested observer, to the British commander-in-chief in America, "it is impossible to foresee all the consequences that this unexpected and extraordinary event may produce. "As the defeat of Ferguson at King's Mountain made" to Lord Charles CORNWALLIS "the first invasion of North Carolina impossible," so Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON foresaw that "the battle of Cowpens would make the second disastrous."

The battle was ended two hours before noon. The prudence of MORGAN was equal to his daring. Aware that the camp of Lord Charles CORNWALLIS at Turkey Creek was within about twenty miles of him and nearer the fords of the Catawba through which he must retire, MORGAN destroyed the captured baggage-wagons, paroled the British officers, in trusted the wounded to the care of the few residents of the neighborhood, and, leaving his cavalry to follow him on their return from the pursuit, on the day of the battle he crossed the Broad river with his foot soldiers and his prisoners, the captured artillery, muskets, acid ammunition. Proceeding by easy marches of ten miles a day, on the twenty-third he crossed the Catawba at Sherrald's ford. Taking for his troops a week's rest in his camp north of the river, he sent forward his prisoners to Salisbury, under the guard of Virginia militia whose time of service had just expired. They were soon beyond the Yadkin on their way to Virginia.

The fame of the great victory at the Cowpens spread in every direction. Nathanael GREENE announced it in general orders, and his army saluted the victors as "the finest fellows on earth, more worthy than ever of love." RUTLEDGE of South Carolina repeated their praises, and rewarded Col. Andrew PICKENS with a commission as brigadier. DAVIDSON of North Carolina wrote that the victory "gladdened every countenance, and paved the way for the salvation of the country." The state of Virginia voted to MORGAN a horse and a sword in testimony of "the highest esteem of his country for his military character and abilities so gloriously displayed." The United States in congress placed among their records "the most lively sense of approbation of the conduct of MORGAN and the men and officers under his command." To him they voted a gold medal, to John E. HOWARD and William WASHINGTON medals of silver, and swords to PICKENS and TRIPLET.

Lord Charles CORNWALLIS had entreated Lt. Col. Banastre TARLETON to make haste and attack the light troops of MORGAN, but had neglected measures to support him. In the condition of affairs he had no good part to take but to remain in South Carolina and recover the mastery there if he could; but all his proud hopes rested on a successful campaign in Virginia. The day after the battle he wrote to Sir Henry CLINTON: "Nothing but the most absolute necessity shall induce me to give up the important object of the winter's campaign. Defensive measures would be certain ruin to the affairs of Britain in the southern colonies." On his own responsibility and against the opinion of his superior officer, he persisted in his plan of striking at the heart of North Carolina, establishing there a royal government, and pressing forward to a junction with the British troops on the Chesapeake.

Leaving Lord RAWDON with a considerable body of troops to defend South Carolina, Lord Charles CORNWALLIS, with the reinforcement which LESLIE had brought him, began his long march, which he meant should have been a hot pursuit of MORGAN, by avoiding the lower roads, there being so few fords in the great rivers below their forks. On the 25th Jan. 1781 he collected his army at Ramsower's Mill, on the south fork of the Catawba. Impatient of being encumbered and delayed there, he resolved to give up his communications with South Carolina and to turn his army into light troops. The measure, if not in every respect absurd, was adopted too late. Two days he devoted to destroying baggage and all wagons except those laden with hospital stores, salt, and ammunition, and four reserved for the sick and wounded, thus depriving his soldiers even of a regular supply of provisions. Then, by forced marches through floods of rain, he approached the river, which, having risen too high to be forded, stopped his march till its waters should subside.

MORGAN from the first had divined the policy of Lord Charles CORNWALLIS, and, on the 25th of Jan. 1781, had written to Nathanael GREENE advising a junction of their forces. On the morning of the 13th of Feb. 1781, Nathanael GREENE arrived at MORGAN's encampment, attended only by a few dragoons. He readily adopted his advice, and on that very day gave orders to the army on the Pedee to prepare to form a junction at Guilford Court-house with those under MORGAN, with whom he remained.

On the 1st day of Feb. 1781, Lord Charles CORNWALLIS, with a part of his army, passed the Catawba at Macgowan's ford. The dark stream was near five hundred yards wide, with a rocky bottom and a strong current, and was perseveringly disputed by General DAVIDSON of North Carolina with three hundred militia, till in resisting the landing a volley of musketry was aimed at him with deadly effect. In him fell one of the bravest and best of those who gave their lives for the in dependence of their country. Forty of the British light infantry and grenadiers were killed or wounded; the horse which Lord Charles CORNWALLIS rode was struck while in the stream, but reached the shore before falling. The other division passed the Catawba at Beattie's ford, and the united army encamped about five miles from the river on the road to Salisbury. On the second and third of February the American light infantry, continuing their march, with the British at their heels, crossed the Yadkin at the Trading ford, partly on flats, during the latter part of the time in a heavy rain. The river, after the Americans were safe beyond it and MORGAN had secured all water craft on its south side, rose too high to be forded. The Americans looked upon Providence as their ally.

Lord Charles CORNWALLIS was forced to lose two days in ascending the Yadkin to the so-called Shallow ford, where he crossed on the 7th Feb. 1781, and on the night of the 9th encamped near the Moravian settlement of Salem. There, near the edge of the wilderness, in a genial clime and on a bountiful soil, hospitable emigrants, bound by their faith never to take up arms, had chosen their abodes; and for their sole defence had raised the symbol of the triumphant Lamb. Among them equality reigned. No one, then or thereafter, was held in bondage. There were no poor, and none marked from others by their apparel or their dwellings. Everywhere appeared simplicity and neatness. The elders watched over the members of the congregation, and incurable wrong-doers were punished by expulsion. After their hours of toil came the hour for prayer, exhortations, and the singing of psalms and hymns. Under their well-directed labor the wilderness blossomed like the rose.

On the same day, at the distance of five-and-twenty miles from Lord Charles CORNWALLIS, the two divisions of the American army effected their junction at Guilford Court-House, NC. Then General MORGAN, emaciated and crippled by combined attacks of fever and rheumatism, took a leave of absence. Never again during the war was he able to resume a command. Wherever he appeared he had heralded the way to daring action, and almost always to success. In 1774, when he was at the mouth of the river Hockhocking on the return from a victorious Indian campaign, he and other triumphant Virginians, hearing that New England was preparing to resist in arms encroachments on their liberty, pledged their support to the people of Boston. In the early summer of 1775 he raised a company of 96 riflemen, and in 21 days, without the loss of one of them, marched them from West Virginia to Boston. He commanded the van in the struggle through the wilderness to Canada. Thrice he led a forlorn hope before Quebec. To him belongs the chief glory of the first great engagement with Burgoyne's army, and be shared in all that followed till the surrender; and now he had won at the Cowpens the most astonishing victory of the war. He took with him into retirement the praises of all the army and of the chief civil representatives of the country.

End of Part V.

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Text - Copyright © 1996-2002 Paul R. Sarrett, Jr.
Created: Dec. 01, 1996; Revised: Jun 01, 2002